The story of a bike!
My first visit to Swallow in 1987 is brazed onto my memory. Pete was bouncing around, the whole building and workshop simply a trove of desirable goods, the scents and sounds of light engineering filling the air, and my bike-to-be waiting patiently in the corner.
Rob, the quiet one, took me aside and gently explained why the Griffon would be ideal for our upcoming trip to Morocco.
Mountain biking was still pretty much in its infancy in the UK at the time. Overseas “expeditions” (holidays) to exotic places were even rarer. Finding a manufacturer of the calibre of Swallow, with such high levels of expertise and experience in such early days, was remarkable. We felt like pioneers.
This would be the best bike I’d ever had.
It exuded an air of combined grace and ruggedness, which is quite a trick to pull off.
The smooth (fillet brazed joints), the massive tyres (actually probably 1.9”s), the wide sweep of the handlebars (probably 18”…). Lots of gears – we’d need them. Suspension forks? Not yet invented.
I paid the bill and drove it home, checking over my shoulder from time to time if it was still there, whether it was asleep, or needed a nappy change or anything.
The next visit was after our return from the Atlas Mountains and sub-Sahara. The bike had performed flawlessly. Everything was a bit battered and pleasingly travel-worn, but still in perfect working order.
Pete emptied out a handful of sand from the sealed bottom bracket.
On day one we’d had to find a welder in the backstreets of Marrakech, after a baggage handler had thrown it out of the plane, braking the front brake boss.
Try doing that with a carbon-framed bike.
We discussed what colour to paint it next (see below).
And then along came the rest of the 20th century. For me it was happily filled with less exotic but constant MTB pleasure, exploring the crinkly bits of Wales, Scotland, the West Country, Yorkshire – good trails, good days. With just routine maintenance and occasional neglect the Griffon continued to deliver grace under pressure, year after year, in spades. Nimble, responsive, rugged. The best bike I’d ever had.
Ch- ch- ch- changes.
But man is fickle. From 1999 a Klein in reasonably new-fangled aluminium took up some of my attention for harder riding. It had bouncy forks and everything…
What to do with the Griffon then? I moved the shifters and brakes onto extended bar ends, mimicking the on-the-hoods position of a road bike, shortened the stem and fitted skinny, semi-slick tyres. It made the best commuting bike ever.
If gravel had been invented it would have been the ultimate gravel bike.
Rob? Can you fit disc brakes on the Griff, do you think?
Apparently, anything is possible, even if it does mean spreading the rear triangle, changing the seat bridge, meticulous specification, new handbuilt wheels, making a fork from scratch. Thanks. Wow.
Rob? Can we switch to 1X gearing? It’s not that simple. Hmm, no chain slap and a simplified life. Thanks.
That commute kept me sane during high stress years. The routes would have canal towpaths, dense traffic, occasional off-road diversions. Summer and winter, day and night, storm and shine, the Griffon would always match the mood, swiftly and safely.
At the end of another long day, and out into the rain and darkness, you could feel the spinning wheels unspool the tension as we wound up to take-off speed.
Ever changing colours…
The Silver Shadow.
Shortly after birth the frame and forks were metallic silver, but as components at the time were also silver I fancied something with contrast. Besides, bits of the finish got sand-blasted off in the Sahara…
The Decade without Taste.
So, gloss black it was, but as it was now the early ‘90’s I had the forks and stem sprayed bright, bubblegum pink. Luckily there are no existing photos.
You Can Be Too Coordinated.
Once common sense resumed I went for a sparkly, kingfisher, turquoise in metallic.
This lasted quite a while, although unintentionally my main riding jacket was also pretty much the same colour. I couldn’t afford more than one jacket…
Finally, You’ve Been Tangoed.
And ultimately, classic orange. I do like this one, and that’s why it’s still on… Hmmm, what colour next I wonder?
I’m not letting it go yet. There’s still plenty of life left in there after 33 years. The Tange Prestige frame has the same bounce, zip and stiffness. The geometry still feels spot on.
A tubeless wheelset would be nice, but that’s a rare thing in 26”. But I can just about squeeze 2.1” knobblies into the frame.
So, it’s the perfect trail bike now. Overnighters, Dirt Dashes, bikepacking exploration, that sort of thing.
I fancy a trip to Kyrgyzstan later this year (I’ll have to learn to spell it first).
What I do know is wherever it goes the Griff will excel.
The Griffon. Body of a lion, head and wings of an eagle. Thanks, guys, for all the years.
Morocco. Too much equipment… From Calange clothing catalogue.
Original Swallow brochure.